Millions of people are too big for their cities, thousands find themselves too confined within their own country, and hundreds of others find crossing continents too easy. However, there are only a few for whom even the world is not enough, whose eyes wander to the sky. They find each country too small, each border just an imaginary line. The sky is not their limit because what they can imagine is far bigger than you can see with your own two eyes.
Their names are familiar to all people round the globe and one of them is Nikola Tesla, perhaps, the most brilliant mind that ever existed on this planet. If you are aware of his greatness then you will be surprised at the rather modest size of the museum dedicated to his life and work in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.
The museum is housed in a residential villa built in the 1930s, and you can’t help but wonder how it is possible to put all of Tesla’s inventions in such small space. When you open the doors of the tiny museum you step into the big picture of Tesla’s world, a scientist “guilty” of modern alternating current electricity supply system that powers the lap-top computer I’m using to write this article.
As we are waiting for a group of five people to get together to go on a tour round the museum in the next hour, we take a quick look at the book of impressions. Hundreds of signatures from the USA, Germany, China, feelings of amazement in visitors from African countries, Asia, South America and the usual arguments between visitors from the Balkans about Tesla’s background and nationality, totally disregarding the fact that this man is above any country or borders.
The tour guide introduces us to the magical, mysterious and a bit crazy world of a brilliant mind and he does it with such fervor as if he is telling the story for the first time. For those who see physics and mechanics as all Greek the guide teaches a short course in key vocabulary: induction, transformer, alternating current etc.
The museum is an interactive journey during which you can literally feel Tesla’s inventions. All five of us hold neon lights in different colours which light up when a large Tesla coil in the centre of the museum is activated. For a moment we feel like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.
The next exciting experience comes in the form of a model of a boat operated by a wireless remote control which Tesla, believe it or not, presented in 1898, long before our TV sets came equipped with it. The museum curator shows the remote control device, at least a hundred times bigger than modern ones, which can still put the boat into motion. More than a century ago, when Tesla played with his boat spectators and journalists got into the waters desperately looking for hidden wires and making outrages assumptions about how the boat works. This is one of the inventions that brought him fame as a magician and a mad scientist. His life was full of adventures, some of them depicted in “The Prestige”, a film by Christopher Nolan.
However, Tesla’s life was far from the film “reality”. He had a difficult life, he was poor but living without any desire to earn a lot of money, to receive any recognition for his work or world fame, and that is how he died, in poverty. We learn about his death when we enter a dark room with a light ball standing in the middle. We all expect to see light coming out of it but the guide informs us that “This is the closest you can ever get to Nikola Tesla as you are standing next to his urn”.
We leave the tiny museum in Krunska Str. in Belgrade with the feeling that Tesla’s work is yet to be discovered. He was considered a mad scientist a century ago, a prophet of the modern times and a visionary of the future. He is simply a scientist from another planet.